paulproteusOpportunity Culture Seeks To Support Teachers Through Unique Model

by Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Imagine working in a school where all teachers have the chance to improve their craft and be rewarded for getting better, working in a school with genuinely useful professional development that flows naturally through your workday.

Imagine schools that let teachers focus on their strengths—whether specific subjects in elementary schools or specific roles at any level.

Imagine schools where teachers have ample school-day time to plan and collaborate in teams to achieve excellent learning results with all students.

And imagine being part of a profession that attracts the best and the brightest to be your colleagues—one with a reputation for developing and retaining top talent through multiple opportunities that provide flexibility throughout a career—plus salaries competitive with highly paid professions.

What if you could belong to a profession so full of opportunities and outstanding peers that you always felt truly proud to teach?

At Public Impact, we call this an Opportunity Culture—and at pilot schools in the U.S., it’s becoming a reality.

Public Impact is a small research and consulting firm in Chapel Hill, N.C., with big ideas. Composed of professionals from many backgrounds, including former teachers, we want to dramatically improve learning outcomes for all children in the U.S., especially those who aren’t getting the education they deserve today.

Beginning in 2009, the directors of Public Impact, Bryan C. Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel, presented a vision for reaching every student with excellent teachers in charge of their learning. Schools can use job redesign and age-appropriate technology to extend excellent teachers’ reach, directly and by leading other teachers, in fully accountable roles, for more pay—within budget. They called it an Opportunity Culture, because all teachers have career opportunities dependent upon their excellence, leadership, and student impact. Advancement allows more pay and greater reach—and all teachers can develop toward excellence, in every role.

The Public Impact team, with input from teachers and other experts, created more than 20 school models to do this, and in the few years since, we’ve worked with school design teams made up of teachers and school leaders to adapt the models they think will work best at their schools.

These “reach-extension” models return the respect that teachers deserve by paying excellent teachers— and in some cases all teachers—more for reaching more students with excellence. Teachers can earn as much as 40 percent more, and teacher-leaders as much as 130 percent more. By helping great teachers reach more students, while focusing their time on the challenging teaching roles that personalize and inspire great learning, schools can pay these teachers more within available budgets, rather than relying on temporary grants. In part, teachers can focus their time on that challenging teaching by delegating noninstructional tasks to paraprofessional teammates.

How One School Is Using New Personnel Models To Support Teachers

For example, in Charlotte-Mecklenburg (CMS), some of the district’s most-struggling schools are using these models, sometimes in combination:

  • Multi-Classroom Leadership. A multi-classroom leader is an excellent teacher who leads a team that includes one or more other teachers. The “MCL” stays in the classroom as a teacher; is accountable for the team’s teaching and the outcomes of all the team’s students; sets the methods and materials used; and collaborates with and develops the team. In CMS, a multi-classroom leader can earn an additional $16,100 to $23,000 (depending on number of students reached and teachers on the leader’s team).

  • Time-Technology Swap. This uses blended learning: In a Time-Technology Swap, students work online—as little as an hour per day—to master basic skills, so their excellent teacher can focus in-person instruction on personalized, higher-order learning, and gain planning and collaboration time. In CMS, a blended-learning teacher can earn an additional $9,200.

  • Elementary Specialization. This allows a teacher who has demonstrated excellence in one subject or subject pair (for example, math and/or science, or language arts and/or social studies) to teach just those subjects to more students, with support from other teachers and paraprofessionals. In CMS, a specializing teacher can earn an additional $4,600.

Teaching Teams

Most models create teaching teams, which have proved quite popular with the school designers—when collaborative teams allow all teachers to succeed, schools increase the odds of widespread improvement in teaching and learning.

These aren’t your mother’s teams: They keep a relentless focus on leadership by proven teachers who are accountable for the learning of all the students taught by their teams and for rigorous on-the-job development of team teachers.

Because not all schools have enough excellent teachers available to extend their reach, remotely located teachers may fill the need, interacting directly with students, though not in person. Teaching via webcam and other technologies, in collaboration with an on-site paraprofessional, these teachers can teach more students without increasing group sizes, both because they are freed from on-site administrative duties and other non-instructional tasks, and through Time-Technology Swaps. They also may teach across multiple time zones, enabling them to reach students during the school day in any location.

And Opportunity Culture schools can increase job flexibility in other ways. When teachers work in teams or extend their reach with help from technology and paraprofessionals, they may be able to work more flexible hours without reducing the number of students taught; teach part-time without reducing the number of students; teach while working from home; or keep helping the same students even if the teacher must move midyear.

How have teachers responded to the possibilities of an Opportunity Culture? At CMS, 708 applications flooded in for just 19 new Opportunity Culture teaching positions. One of the pilot schools was fully staffed in math for the first time in recent memory—and principals see multiple positive signs for teacher retention and stability, even at these high-need, historically hard-to-staff schools. Nashville’s iZone schools drew similar interest.

Through this work with teachers on school design teams, it has become increasingly clear to Public Impact how extending the reach of excellent teachers starts a virtuous cycle enabling increased teacher selectivity, opportunity, and pay—for all:

•Selectivity about who enters and remains in teaching becomes far easier when schools offer the engaging, developmental, financially rewarding jobs with outstanding peers that high performers want and that reach models allow. When good teachers benefit developmentally and financially from having great peers, everyone has a reason to advocate for selectivity.

•Opportunity for career advancement and rigorous, on-the-job learning becomes possible when great teachers advance by collaborating with, leading, and developing other teachers in teams to reach more students (without forcing class-size increases). Co-teaching on teams where excellence is acknowledged provides authentic on-the-job learning, and it enables a team’s teaching to rise to the level of the most skilled teachers in each instructional area. Paraprofessionals scheduled correctly enable in-school collaboration time and greater reach.

•Pay that is substantially higher—potentially doubling to six figures on average, within budget—becomes doable when teams reach more students than is possible in today’s one-teacher-one-classroom mode, and when schools shift other spending to teacher pay. Using less-costly paraprofessionals to save teachers time for reach and shifting academic resource teachers back into fully accountable teaching roles both lead to higher teacher pay.


We’re excited about all the possibilities we continue to see in an Opportunity Culture—for teachers and for students. Excellent teachers and ones working hard to achieve excellence are truly schools’ most important assets.

If your school or district is designing new career paths, we hope you demand opportunities that pay you more for excellence and leadership, increase your impact on students and peers, free your time for collaboration and development, and provide these benefits for the long-term.

Sharon Kebschull Barrett is the senior editor at Public Impact. All Opportunity Culture materials and tools are available free at; follow Public Impact on Twitter; image attribution flickr user paulproteus